Development of catecholaminergic neurons in the human medulla oblongata

Dietrich E. Lorke, Wing Hang Kwong, Wood Yee Chan, David T. Yew

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12 Scopus citations


Distribution and maturation of catecholaminergic (CA) neurons have been studied by tyrosine hydroxylase immunohistochemistry in the medulla oblongata of human fetuses aged 14.5-25 weeks of gestation. Already at 14.5 weeks, CA neurons were observed in two longitudinally oriented cell clusters, one located ventrolaterally in the area of the lateral reticular and ambiguus nuclei, the other one dorsomedially forming 4 groups related to the dorsal vagal nucleus, the commissural nucleus of the vagus, the nucleus of the tractus solitarius and the area postrema. CA neurons in the area postrema were often found close to blood vessels. Scattered intermediate CA neurons were seen between these two larger clusters. CA neurons still appeared immature exhibiting bipolar morphology with only one or two short stout processes, which hardly branched. At 21 weeks, CA neurons occupied essentially the same location, but had a more mature morphology. Though still bipolar in shape, they had thinner and much longer processes which frequently branched. Both in the ventrolateral and the dorsomedial cell clusters, these processes were frequently lying close to blood vessels. At 25 weeks, CA cells had matured into multipolar neurons with long thin processes forming fine fiber networks in the ventrolateral medulla as well as around and within the dorsal vagal and solitarius nuclei. Only at this stage, a distinct CA fiber tract was seen located in the region of the tractus solitarius. Our results indicate that CA neurons in the human medulla, which are presumably involved in the control of ventilation and blood pressure, though generated rather early during development, mature relatively late.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)1315-1331
Number of pages17
JournalLife Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - 25 Jul 2003


  • Area postrema
  • Catecholaminergic
  • Development
  • Dorsal vagal nucleus
  • Human brain
  • Medulla oblongata
  • Noradrenergic
  • Nucleus solitarius
  • Tyrosine hydroxylase


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